What exactly is stress?17 Stress is a biological response that causes hormones (brain chemicals) to surge through your body. These hormones make you sweat, breathe more rapidly, and tense your muscles. Sometimes called “fight or flight,” the stress response is a built-in alarm system that prepares your body to take action – or leave the scene.
Stress and Mental Health
Stress is a normal response to outside pressures or demands, and small doses of stress help people stay focused, meet deadlines, and handle challenging situations. When stress is frequent or prolonged, however, the risk of mental health problems increases. Long-term stress raises the risk of depression, anxiety, and harmful substance use, as well as medical problems such as aches and pains, digestive problems, and even heart disease.17 It also works the other way: mental health problems make you less capable of handling stress.1
Common sources of stress include a challenging physical environment (such as an unsafe living space), relationships, work, financial problems, and major life changes.17 Of course, you may have other sources of stress that reflect the unique pattern of your life.
Modern life puts stress in just about everyone’s path. So how do you know if stress is a problem for you? The table below lists some symptoms to watch for.17 Pay special attention if you notice these symptoms occurring more often than usual.
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Memory problems
- Negativity or lack of self-confidence
- Constant worrying
- Difficulty making decisions
- Nervousness, inability to relax
- Fear or Anxiety
- Sadness or Guilt
- Low morale
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Heahaches, muscle tension, other physical aches
- Digestive problems
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Loss of sex drive
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Social withdrawal
- Nervous habits such as nail biting
- Increased use of substances
- Neglect of family or work responsibilities
The Sandwich Life
About one in 10 parents belong to the “sandwich generation” – people caring for both children and elders- and they typically spend three hours per day on caregiving duties. Not surprisingly, such double duties create extra stress. if you find yourself in this situation and have other family members who can step up, hold family meetings to discuss and assign tasks, so the responsibility doesn’t fall on you alone. Prepare for financial challenges by consulting an advisor. Just as important, schedule “duty-free” leisure time with the older people you care for, so you get a physical and mental break from your to-do list.